Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shooting the Futurist

Heads up!It’s the end of the world as we know it and your local photog feels fine. At least that’s the vibe among some veteran TV news shooters after reading a Denver Post article on changes at KUSA Channel 9. In it, Joanne Ostrow describes the new philosophy afoot at Gannett Broadcasting - a huge station group already known for embracing ‘backpack journalism’. Now the print and TV behemoth is preaching Fundamental Multimedia, merging their newsrooms into all-purpose information portals for TV and the Internet (even Print, should it still be in demand). To hear KUSA general manager Mark Cornetta tell it, the future’s so bright, you gotta don somber monocles:
"In the old world, one person shot a story, another edited it, a third told the story. In the new world, one person would be reporter photojournalist editor and producer for TV and the Web."
As a TV news shooter who’s worked alone most of his career, that excites the hell out of me. (I doubt it does the same for the hot blonde reporter chick accustomed to a cameraman but that’s another post.) While far from the sharpest shooter, headiest editor or even bestest writer, I juggle all three just fine. Though I currently don’t appear on camera, I do EVERY thing else - from making the initial phone calls to penning a closing thought for the anchor to share just before he throws it to Super Duper Doppler Sports. I’m not saying it’s the right way to commit television, just the way they learned me back at the Roy Park School of Broadcasting. It was there I earned my first degree in Pit Stain Journalism - that reportorial discipline practiced by sweaty young men talking to empty cameras on the side of the road while dressed in nice shirts, cheap ties and blue jeans tattooed with tripod grease. It’s never pretty but what you trade in artifice you sometimes gain in authenticity - provided the dude figures out how to focus his camera from in front of the lens.

Now of course your average Sony is a lot less bony, laptops can make acres of French fries and still entertain your kids and that not so distant rumbling you hear? It’s the tremors of a coming quake that’s gonna blow those outdated stage doors off the Fourth Estate. In its place will be a new media landscape and while I cannot predict what delivery platform will become the norm, I feel pretty good about my chances of survival. No matter which new gizmo I’m made to master, street level data-gathering skills will still be needed to navigate the haystacks, highways and courthouse halls where news is known to happen. So too will time-management, a sense of cinema and writing on the fly, three of the very few things I do okay. So while crafty newspaper folk stay up late learning my job, some snotty kid in his bedroom masters Final Cut Pro and corner office chiselers salivate over departmental fat, forgive me if I hum a familiar tune.

VJ, One Man Band, Lunchbox Cineaste ... I don't really care which moniker sticks. Cocky photogs will continue to craft news stories all by their lonesome, just as they've done since the very first test pattern was stitched together from Indian blankets. Certainly more will join the fray, but I don't see our big-headed industry taking the ‘crew’ out of news crew just yet. Not with a hopped-up 24 hour news cycle, a cable net universe with a dead blonde addiction and a populace smitten with pimped-out plasma fatties. It's a fantastic time to sling a lens, but you'd better be ready to write, edit, enterprise and schmooze your way into a room as well - for the era of the daydreaming photog is sputtering to an inglorious finish. Luckily, the very same can be said for the sheltered news producer who thinks a way with clichés and the ability to count backwards should forever protect him from getting his hands dirty.

Then again what do I know? I once turned a four part series on the pending apocalypse of Y2K and felt pretty good about it. Had some real moments...

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